My fascination with St. Junípero Serra began in grade school when I learned about the California missions. Already familiar with Franciscan friars, I made the connection to the real-life priests and brothers I knew.
On my only visit to California (in 1995), I insisted on having the chance to visit one of the missions. We attended Mass at Mission San Diego and I took the opportunity to explore the grounds. As it doesn’t look like more trips to California are in my future, I’ll need to explore the remaining missions in a virtual pilgrimage of sorts. That’s where Stephen J. Binz’s new book comes in.
Saint Junípero Serra’s Camino: A Pilgrimage Guide to the California Missions (Franciscan Media, 2017) offers armchair pilgrims like myself the chance to go behind the scenes at each of the 21 missions in the state of California. An impressively comprehensive guidebook of the 21 California missions featuring a short biography of St. Junípero Serra, a look at the colonial and missionary climate of the 18th century, and separate chapters for each mission. Readers are invited to take walking, driving or virtual pilgrimages in which they learn the history of each mission site, examine its architecture, discover its patron saint and engage in prayer.
This book digs more deeply than you’d expect in a guidebook. Binz does not gloss over the problems that occurred during the colonization period in an attempt to re-canonize Serra, nor does he demonize the friars and others who journeyed to California to evangelize the people there. I found his approach to the whole Serra controversy balanced and well-documented.
Pilgrims can follow the route laid out by Binz, which is in geographical order from south to north. The author also includes a list of the missions in order of their founding, in case pilgrims wish to follow that path instead (admittedly, this would work best for virtual pilgrimages, as it involves a good deal of backtracking.)
That’s Mission Santa Bárbara on the cover. Founded in 1786, it’s the first mission founded after Serra’s death. If I could only visit one mission, that’s the one I’d pick, because it’s named for my patron saint. This book also helped me learn more about her–because she lived during the fourth century, details of her life are sketchy, so I knew very little.
My only complaint about this guidebook was its lack of photos. There were few photographs, and the ones that were included were small and in black and white.
If you’re planning a trip to California, definitely get your hands on this book and plan to stop to visit at least one of these missions! If you’re like me, this book will help you learn about a fascinating chapter in our nation’s history and that of our faith.
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Copyright 2017 Barb Szyszkiewicz